Thank you, Jesus!

Gospel veterans shine the light on Laxson

A NOD’S AS GOOD AS A WINK Clarence Fountain (left) and Jimmy Carter of the Blind Boys of Alabama keepin’ it hot.

A NOD’S AS GOOD AS A WINK Clarence Fountain (left) and Jimmy Carter of the Blind Boys of Alabama keepin’ it hot.

Photo By Tom Angel

Blind Boys of Alabama Laxson Auditorium, Thurs., Oct. 2

Midway through the Blind Boys of Alabama’s set, I half-expected to see a celestial beam of light shoot into the crowd, bathing some enraptured listener in the glory of THE LIGHT.

From the moment they shuffled onstage, four slick men in dark sunglasses and matching beige suits, the Boys were conduits for divine inspiration. They may have looked old, but these Grammy-winning veterans still have the vocal power and spiritual joy to transform a packed Laxson house into a whooping, clapping congregation of believers.

Having formed over 60 years ago at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind, The Boys know how to infuse modern-day spirituals with showmanship and funky grit. Backed by a standard R&B rhythm section, the music had a raw, church-house-band feel that proved just how much blues and soul owe to traditional gospel.

Highlights were provided from two lead vocalists, original band members Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain, the only members of the current group who are actually blind. Carter was the stronger of the two, his grainy baritone able to project and hold wailing notes with awe-inspiring strength, as in the bluesy “Down in the Hole” ("You gotta put the devil down in the hole …so he can’t mess with your head"). During a rollicking “Somethin’ to Tell Ya,” Carter electrified everyone as the house lights turned on and he was led through the standing crowd like a Baptist healer.

Fountain mostly performed from a chair centerstage, standing periodically to shake a fist or jut his hips. His soulful vocals stamped a moving “People Get Ready” bolstered by high, Curtis Mayfield-style harmonies and stinging guitar licks copped from Jeff Beck.

It wasn’t a long show, but it was perfectly satisfying by the time the group finished with an a cappella version of "(This Could Be) The Last Time." I left thinking the Blind Boys have probably never performed a bad show in their long career—they just don’t have it in ’em as long as the Lord’s around.